The Mystifying Turquoise Lakes of Banff National Park

December 25, 2018

The Mystifying Turquoise Lakes of Banff National Park

When a mood needs to be lifted, visiting the water’s edge is a quick jolt to the spirit. To declutter thoughts or be reinvigorated by the presence of something magnificent, one can stand in solitude, high in the air at the foot of a snowy mountain. And if new beginnings are what you need, surrounding yourself with the oxygen-rich scent of nature’s deep green trees is a sufficient clean slate. This work, Alpine Air, conjoins the three pillars in perfect harmony—mountains, trees, and turquoise water.

The closest someone can get to living in this painting is by touching down in Calgary, Canada, and driving 75 miles down the road to Banff National Park. Part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site, Banff was Canada’s first national park and the flagship of the nation’s park system. Banff National Park houses diverse flora and fauna—from mule deer to bears to mountain goats to wolves—and more than three million visitors enter its tree-lined gates each year for many of the park’s varying activities, including hiking, hot springs, fishing, swimming, biking, and skiing. What’s more is Banff offers some of the world’s most breathtaking mountain scenery.

 It’s special elements of this scenery that gives Banff National Park its notoriety. First entering the park is a substantial shift into a peaceful universe, but upon hiking high up to one of the glacier lakes, you’d really think someone stuck you in a painting. The canopy of snowy mountains and dark fir trees are grand backdrops for something even more magical—the silky, turquoise color of the lakes.

A new visitor at Banff has likely never laid eyes on such a strange colored lake. Seemingly a witches brew, most visitors can’t break their gaze from the cloudy-aqua sight—it’s as if the lakes are underlit or as if someone drained them, painted the underlying rocks a luminous turquoise, and pumped the water back in. One could think that the exhilaration of being high up in the Rockies is the culprit of flawed sight. But alas, it is not the work of man or a work of magic—the opaque yet brilliant topaz lakes are a product of unique glacial sources.

 While algae and the color of the sky can play into colors of water picked up by the eyes, glacial lakes are cold (unkind to algae), and reflective tendencies from the sky don’t explain the specificity of the blue. The secret ingredient, rather, is rock flour—also called glacial flour, which is made up of extremely fine rock particles. Rock flour was deposited in the Rockies during the last ice age and when suspended in lakes or rivers, it creates a milky, luminous turquoise color.

Laying eyes on the exquisitely blue lakes of the Rockies should be at the top of any bucket list. The mark they and the majestic, towering mountains left on me and millions of other visitors is the very inspiration for Alpine Air.